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Earlier this year, my 5-year-old son was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder.  The diagnosis did not come as a complete surprise.


Over the previous year, my husband and I had grown increasingly aware of our son’s socially averse behavior and rigid thinking. He avoided eye contact with most people and melted down if routines or food weren’t precisely as expected. And he seemed not to understand – or even be concerned with – social cues.

Still, despite his social and behavioral challenges, my son had unusual abilities.

He had taught himself to read when he was four and was a book lover with an incredible memory. His singular focus over the previous year had been learning everything – EVERYTHING – about outer space, writing “books” about the solar system and drawing thousands of pages of the planets in fine detail, including the hundreds of moons which he knew by name.

He often spoke like an adult and could sit and focus on tasks for long stretches of time. Although his introverted nature was not unlike many of our nerdy, socially awkward family members, we knew he probably had Asperger’s syndrome, that particular part of the autism spectrum that applies to kids like him: verbal, focused acquirers of information who can’t seem to make sense of the social world around them.

The moment the developmental pediatrician confirmed that our son had Autism Spectrum Disorder (Asperger’s syndrome having been folded into a broader umbrella diagnosis in 2013), we found ourselves part of the strange fellowship of parents with children on the autism spectrum who are told to look at their child’s challenges and strengths with new eyes.

While it was a relief to have an explanation for the behavioral challenges we were confronting on a daily basis, in the context of an autism diagnosis, our son’s precocious ability to read was reframed as a “splinter skill.”

His unusual ability to focus was “perseverating.” And his passion for data and facts was determined to be a “classic sign of autism.”  “I wish I had better news for you,” the doctor said apologetically as we left his office, “but at least some of these kids are really smart!”

We were frustrated. How was it possible that his strengths and abilities were pathological?  In the months that followed, we waded through the morass of behavioral, dietary, psychiatric and educational advice, becoming more confounded. The dominant focus on autism seemed to be on research into causes, preventions, and cures. Why? Where was the chorus of experts providing us with advice on how we, as parents, could champion and channel our son’s abilities while helping him cope in a world that would always seem alien and confusing?

For a parent of a child on the autism spectrum, Steve Silberman’s NeuroTribes: The Legacy of Autism and the Future of Neurodiversity is nothing short of a revelation.

Silberman’s premise, which he makes clear from the beginning, is not only that is there a place in the world for autistic intelligence, but that one of our greatest challenges as a society (especially given the rising number of autism diagnoses, which currently stands at one in 68)  is creating a world in which that intelligence is fully utilized, where neurodiversity is not just “accommodated,” but celebrated.

The book grew out of reporting Silberman did for Wired magazine, largely in San Francisco and Silicon Valley, one of the regions where the “epidemic” of autism has been most closely watched (and where two crucial countercultures – that of the nerdy tech sector and the vaccine-fearing counterculture – find strange intersections).

The book begins with a lengthy history lesson, and indeed, it is through Silberman’s sweeping and lovingly detailed history of the evolution of autism that the reader unlocks the understanding of how our society came to our current understanding and response to autistic people today.

Although autism has always been present in humans, its characteristics were not fully articulated, nor was it identified as a unique disorder, until the 1930s, when it was “discovered” simultaneously by Hans Asperger in Austria and Leo Kanner in Baltimore.  Both Asperger and Kanner noticed behavioral similarities amongst some children brought to their respective clinics. These were children who had difficulty making eye contact and with social interaction were preoccupied with rules and systems, and had extraordinary abilities in areas like math, art, music, and science.

Asperger was convinced that it was possible for children with this disorder (which he called “autistic psychopathy”) to thrive with the help of tailored teaching methods that would draw on their fascinations, and he foresaw important roles for them in contributing to the betterment of society.

Asperger was also the first person to recognize that autism was clearly a continuum, with nonverbal and verbal children sharing core characteristics. He called these children, affectionately, his “little professors,” since many of them were prone to talk about their pet interests at length. As the Nazis accelerated their plans to rid society of “mental defectives” with a large-scale campaign to euthanize disabled children and adults, Asperger gave the world’s first public talk on autism, in which he defended his patients’ right to exist.

Cognizant of the Nazis’ intolerance of visibly disabled children, Asperger focused on what he called the “most promising cases” of children in his care, arguing that these children were not only capable of accomplishing great things in the world, but that their social difficulties were inextricably linked to their gifts. His framing of autism likely saved the lives of many children, but before he was able to disseminate his work widely, his clinic was destroyed in an air raid–and with it, the case studies of all of his patients.

Silberman’s examination of Asperger’s life and contributions is made all the more poignant when one considers Leo Kanner’s radically different understanding of autism, which was to shape the diagnoses and approaches to treatment for decades to come.

Kanner, who saw only the most challenging cases of autism, determined it to be a very rare disorder consisting of a narrow range of behaviors. More significantly, he promoted the idea that autism had somehow been triggered by cold and distant parenting styles. “Refrigerator Mothers” were likely to blame, and only psychiatry could ameliorate the damage that had been done.

By emphasizing the most debilitating aspects of autism, and by implicating parents, Kanner paved the way for decades of mistreatment of autistic children.

The chapters detailing the lifelong institutionalization of children in horrific conditions where shackling, neglect and corporal punishment were the norm, as well as a chapter on the darker side of treatments such as Applied Behavior Analysis that are still widely used today, will be particularly difficult for parents to read.

Perhaps most significantly, Kanner’s work shaped the current emphasis on finding causes, prevention and “cures” for autism, rather than focusing on expanding services and designing adaptive technologies and spaces for autistic people. It also ensured that autism remained stigmatizing for families–a legacy that sadly persists today. From the moment of diagnosis onwards, parents are told to view their child’s strengths as deficits, to question the causes, and to hope for a cure.

It wasn’t until the 1970s that Asperger’s work was rediscovered by the British cognitive psychologist Lorna Wing, who was seeking answers to the variety of autistic traits she was discovering in the general population.

Largely due to her efforts, the clinical definition of autism was expanded to include the true spectrum it is today, and Silberman makes clear that it is the broadened diagnostic criteria that have been responsible for the rise in autism cases.

In addition to Asperger and a handful of researchers willing to question the status quo, the true heroes of Silberman’s book are parents and autistic people themselves who have fought for the full inclusion and acceptance of autistic people in schools, workplaces and the public sphere.  Without the parental advocacy groups of the 1970s, disabled children would still be denied the right to a public school education; and parents are still on the front lines of fighting for services for their children in their schools and communities every single day.

Autistic people themselves have also stepped out of the shadows with the rallying cry “Nothing About Us Without Us,” proudly carrying the autistic label and insisting on full inclusion in policy discussions having an impact on their lives.

The neurodiversity movement is leading efforts to promote social support systems and highlight the necessity and value of neurological differences. And while Silberman’s focus is on autism, the concept of neurodiversity extends to anyone whose brains are wired differently, including those with dyslexia, ADD/ADHD, and mood disorders.

Silberman, who spent years with autistic individuals and their families to write this book, is  remarkably restrained when detailing the medical interventions approaching quackery that certain members of the medical community have pushed on parents desperate to help their children. However, he clearly believes that we need to redirect at least some of the money that is being poured into the research identifying causes into expanding services and destigmatizing autism, and he makes a persuasive argument based on history alone.

A portion of Silberman’s work chronicles autistic innovators: from Henry Cavendish to Nikolas Tesla to Temple Grandin to Silicon Valley’s geeky workforce, many innovations in the modern world have come from autistic minds.

I recently got together with a group of parents who have young autistic children. As we shared stories of parenting our kids, two common themes emerged: the extraordinary abilities our kids have, and the immense challenges we all face in getting access to the services and support that our kids need. One of the strangest things about receiving an autism diagnosis for your child, in fact, is simultaneously receiving the message that your family is now part of a ballooning “epidemic,” even as the experience of advocating for your child often feels like a solitary exercise in having to proffer the same explanations and reinvent the same wheel, over and over.

Parents like myself are mired in the daily worries, exhaustion, and yes, joys of raising a child on the spectrum.

For me, the greatest contribution of NeuroTribes is that it reinforces and gives historical vindication to our instincts to create learning and living environments that respond to our children’s challenges while supporting their abilities.

That Silberman combines this analysis with so much warmth and respect for his subjects–autistic children, their families, and their champions–makes the book not just part of a parent’s toolkit, but also a source of wisdom and companionship, as if the caring hero of Silberman’s narrative, Hans Asperger, were still among us.

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As a military spouse, Cydney Cooper is used to doing things alone. But when she delivered her twin daughters early after complications due to Influenza A, she was missing her husband Skylar more than ever.

Recovering from the flu and an emergency C-section, and trying to parent the couple's two older boys and be with her new infant daughters in the NICU, Cydney was exhausted and scared and just wanted her husband who was deployed in Kuwait with the Army and wasn't expected home for weeks.

Alone in the NICU 12 days after giving birth, Cydney was texting an update on the twins to her husband when he walked through the door to shoulder some of the massive burden this mama was carrying.

"I was typing up their summary as best I could and trying to remember every detail to tell him when I looked up and saw him standing there. Shock, relief, and the feeling that everything was just alright hit me at once. I just finally let go," she explains in a statement to Motherly.

The moment was captured on video thanks to a family member who was in on Skylar's surprise and the reunion has now gone viral, having been viewed millions of times. It's an incredible moment for the couple who hadn't seen each other since Skylar had a three-day pass in seven months earlier.

Cydney had been caring for the couple's two boys and progressing in her pregnancy when, just over a week before the viral video was taken, she tested positive for Influenza A and went into preterm labor. "My husband was gone, my babies were early, I had the flu, and I was terrified," she tells Motherly.

"Over the next 48 hours they were able to stop my labor and I was discharged from the hospital. It only lasted two days and I went right back up and was in full on labor that was too far to stop."

Cydney needed an emergency C-section due to the babies' positioning, and her medical team could not allow anyone who had previously been around her into the operating room because anyone close to Cydney had been exposed to the flu.

"So I went in alone. The nurses and doctors were wonderful and held my hand through the entire thing but at the same time, I felt very very alone and scared. [Skylar] had been present for our first two and he was my rock and I didn't have him when I wanted him the most. But I did it! He was messaging me the second they wheeled me to recovery. Little did I know he was already working on being on his way."

When he found out his baby girls were coming early Skylar did everything he could to get home, and seeing him walk into the NICU is a moment Cydney will hold in her heart and her memory forever. "I had been having to hop back and forth from our sons to our daughters and felt guilty constantly because I couldn't be with all of them especially with their dad gone. It was one of the most amazing moments of my life and I won't be forgetting it."

It's so hard for a military spouse to do everything alone after a baby comes, and the military does recognize this. Just last month the Army doubled the amount of leave qualifying secondary caregivers (most often dads) can take after a birth or adoption, from 10 days to 21 so that moms like Cydney don't have to do it all alone.

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Yesterday at Target I stood in line behind a Mom with two screaming kids. One clung to her leg while the other, a brand new baby, wailed from her arms.

I am not used to being the one who is not the parent of the screaming child.

This was uncharted territory.

I identified with her painfully and I wanted desperately to affirm her. I wasn't sure what to do except smile and look as nonjudgmental as possible. I tried to think of what I could say, like, should I shout above the screaming, “YOU'RE AMAZING!!" Or should I go in for a fist bump, “You got this!!"?

Before I could process what my awesome, pro-mom, non-judgey response was going to be the mom turned to me with desperate eyes, “I'm sorry, um, can you hold her?" She held out her crying infant towards me.

“YES!" I said eagerly. As I took her precious one in my arms, the little girl made eye contact and then wailed. I bounced her gently and put her pacifier back in her mouth, feeling such an intense solidarity with this mama.

“I have four," I offered, hoping to reassure her that she hadn't chosen a psychopath.

“Me too," she smiled.

“Target with kids is hard," I said, “how old is she?"

“Four weeks," she smiled with postpartum exhaustion in her eyes, “thank you so much," she took back her baby and I watched her walk away.

No…thank you. I thought.

I have been the woman in the checkout line more times than I can count.

I've stood sweating in this woman's exact position, barely commanding the tears to wait until I got to my car. I've felt my face grow red and hot as my toddler screamed and kicked, waking up my baby who was angry and ready to nurse. I've felt so alone and so out of control.

I've thought I SHOULD BE ABLE TO DO THIS. I AM DOING SOMETHING WRONG AND EVERYONE KNOWS WHAT IT IS EXCEPT FOR ME.

I've pretended to be calm and cool while inside I felt like I was suffocating. I've felt embarrassed and emotionally naked in front of an audience of spectators. In my mind people were waiting and expecting me to GET IT TOGETHER.

But as I rocked this baby I thought, in those moments, there were probably people just like me who were longing to lighten my load and whisper—hey, I get it, I've been here too—you're doing a great job.

This mama was brave.

She let her guard down and because of that, gave me a gift. She redeemed a thousand of my own frantic check-out moments by letting me be a part of hers. She let me join her village and reminded me that I'm not alone.

I am not the first one to walk this road and I will not be the last. There are grandmas, great grandmas and great great grandmas that have gone before me. There are mamas whose kids are older than mine and who are navigating junior high and high school. There are those who are right where I am and those who have brand new babies.

Whatever stage I find myself at, I will not find myself alone. This is a weathered road we travel.

I'm not the only parent whose kids have thrown tantrums in Target, I'm not the only one to have her kids tell a lie, I'm not the only Mom to lose her temper. I'm not the only one to have a son who struggles with reading, or the only one to have a child scream I HATE YOU. I am not the first and I will not be the last.

We really are a part of a village, a part of something much bigger than just ourselves and there are women all around us who simply get it.

Chance brought me one of my people, a sister I just hadn't met yet.

She is one of the ones in the ring with me, doing messy, but beautiful work. We are both knee deep in motherhood and for a moment our stories crossed and I am grateful.

To me she was beautiful and valiant, a mother holding everything together by a thread. I don't know how she felt. I don't know if she felt small, or if she felt tired. I don't know if she felt undone or defeated…but I hope she felt supported.

I hope that in that moment she did not feel alone.

I hope she felt like I was WITH her.

No judgement.

Just respect.

We are not the first moms and we will not be the last to have a “moment."

It is messy, it is hard, we will fail often…but we do none of it alone, and we are never, ever the “only one."

#Solidarity

Jessica writes at her blog Wonderoak. Follow her on Facebook and Instagram.

We all know that being a mother brings many joys, but a phenomenal sex life is not usually one of them. While parenting with a partner can be the most beautiful bonding experience, it can also be a breeding ground for resentment, romantic disconnect and unsatisfying sex.

But all is not lost to a life with little ones. As a mom of two, I attest to the fact that parenthood can actually improve your sex life; and as a relationship coach, I know I'm not alone in that. But here's the thing: you have to give it some attention. Great sex doesn't just happen on its own.

A truly satisfying sex life after kids requires education, communication, commitment and confidence. It asks that you shift your attitude from seeing sex as a chore to something pleasurable that you have the privilege of doing with the partner you love.

And I'm here to show you how.

Here are six elements to have a great sex life after kids.

1. Time

A great sex life requires time. I know what you're thinking: there's already too much on your to-do list. But you're just as important as everything else, and you need to make pleasure a priority. Maybe you put the kids to bed 30 minutes early or swap babysitting nights with your sister-in-law for a pre-planned date night. But you need to find the time to focus on yourself as a woman and as a lover.

2. Sleep

You need sleep to feel like a human, and you need to feel like a human to rekindle your sex life. A 2015 study found that with just one more hour of sleep a night, women were 14% more likely to engage in a sexual activity the next day. So do whatever it takes to get more sleep; take two 20-minute naps or promise yourself one early bedtime a week and see the difference it can make.

3. Ask for help

Between picking up after the kids and laundry and dishes, household responsibilities can put a toll on your relationship. After all, they provide the perfect breeding ground for resentment; and, let's face it, resentment is the opposite of attraction. So ask for help. Yes, from your partner (research shows that sharing household responsibilities increases the frequency of sex a couple has), but also from the reinforcements. Call your mom or your best friend and ask for help, or even splurge on an agency to help you get things back in order.

4. Attitude

When you want a happy and healthy sex life, you need the right attitude—one that doesn't treat sex and intimacy like a chore, but enthusiastically embraces sex positivity. Although it sounds difficult, it's really just four principles.

First, make sex a PRIORITY, which may mean giving up an evening playing Candy Crush to have a romantic night with your man. Then you need to do some PLANNING and put sex on your calendar. Planning intimacy does not have to take the fun out of it, but instead builds the rhythm we need for spontaneous lovemaking to occur.

But you also need FLEXIBILITY to make a great sex life work, especially with parenthood. Is one of the kids sick? Push back your special night until tomorrow. Babysitter cancelled? It's okay to settle for Netflix and a quickie. Go with the flow a little more and you may be surprised what fun you can have. Finally, FOLLOW-THROUGH and commit to these principles. If you throw in the towel after the first roadblock, you're telling yourself and your man that your sex life isn't important enough to fight for, which only leads to more disappointment and resentment.

5. Sex toys

Sex toys aren't only for solo play, they can add fun and excitement when used with your partner. A toy, whether a vibrator or silk blindfold, brings newness to the bedroom, which can turn you on and inspire you to explore. Beyond their aphrodisiac effect, sex toys can give you the extra stimulation you need and ensure that you get your happy ending, too.

6. Sense of humor

Parenting can bring MAJOR frustration to your sex life, and when it goes unaddressed, it drives a wedge in your relationship. Don't let it. Approach parenting's chaos with a sense of humor. Share your oh-my-god experiences together and laugh about them. Embrace the crazy joy parenthood offers and use it as a connection point, something that ties you together, not tears you apart.

Mamas, I know you're exhausted. And I know sex is often the last thing on your mind. But I promise, if you put in a little bit of effort and dedication in your sex life, it pays back tenfold. You get better sex. Your relationship improves. And your partner transforms, once more, into your lover.

The mental load of motherhood is heavy, but it can be difficult to explain what it really feels like to others. It's that never-ending to-do list that has to get done, but only seems to get longer. It's the constant worry of having to get all of those things done, from routine check-ins to managing the emotional balance of the household.

Simply put, it's invisible work that has to be done by someone—and that usually falls on mama.

If you're having trouble explaining that load to others, whether it be friends or your partner, Karen Kleiman, a well-known international maternal mental-health expert, put it into words. And Molly McIntyre, an illustrator and comic artist drew beautiful images.




Illustrated by Molly McIntyre. Molly McIntyre is an illustrator and comic artist with a background in traditional printmaking and book arts techniques. Her illustrations have been featured in Bitch magazine, Everyday Feminism, ScaryMommy, Psychology Today, and more. She is currently working on a collection of comics about new motherhood, called Momzines. She lives in Brooklyn, NY, with her husband and young son.

Comics from Good Moms Have Scary Thoughts, an accessible collection of comics and resources, releasing March 1st from Familius and available at bookstores everywhere.

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